How the Cold War Created AstrobiologyBreaking News
tags: Cold War, history of science, astrobiology, Sputnik
Astronomy and biology have been circling each other with timid infatuation since the first time a human thought about the possibility of other worlds and other suns. But the melding of the two into the modern field of astrobiology really began on Oct. 4, 1957, when a 23-inch aluminum sphere called Sputnik 1 lofted into low Earth orbit from the desert steppe of the Kazakh Republic. Over the following weeks its gently beeping radio signal heralded a new and very uncertain world. Three months later it came tumbling back through the atmosphere, and humanity’s small evolutionary bump was set on a trajectory never before seen in 4 billion years of terrestrial history.
At the time of the ascent of Sputnik, a 32-year-old American called Joshua Lederberg was working in Australia as a visiting professor at the University of Melbourne. Born in 1925 to immigrant parents in New Jersey, Lederberg was a prodigy. Quick-witted, generous, and with an incredible ability to retain information, he blazed through high school and was enrolled at Columbia University by the time he was 15. Earning a degree in zoology and moving on to medical studies, his research interests diverted him to Yale. There, at age 21, he helped research the nascent field of microbial genetics, with work on bacterial gene transfer that would later earn him a share of the 1958 Nobel Prize.1,2
Like the rest of the planet, Australia was transfixed by the Soviet launch; as much for the show of technological prowess as for the fact that a superpower was now also capable of easily lobbing thermonuclear warheads across continents. But, unlike the people around him, Lederberg’s thoughts were galvanized in a different direction. He immediately knew that another type of invisible wall had been breached, a wall that might be keeping even more deadly things at bay, as well as incredible scientific opportunities....
comments powered by Disqus
- Letters from young Obama show a man trying to find his way
- Nazis in America: Richard Spencer's Visit to Florida Targets Jewish and Hispanic Students, Professors Say
- Documents: U.S. Embassy Tracked Indonesia Mass Murder 1965
- Tufts Project Maps The Landmarks Of Black Boston
- Asp – or ash? Climate historians link Cleopatra's demise to volcanic eruption
- Victor Davis Hanson says we shouldn’t be rushing to war with North Korea
- Bill Moyers interviews James Whitman about his shocking book
- Cornelia Bailey, Champion of African-Rooted Culture in Coastal Georgia, Dies at 72
- Sexism in the history department at West Point alleged
- A Conversation About American Racism with Ibram X. Kendi